Behaviourism (aka If You Can Train Your Dog, Surely You Can Train Yourself…?)

[Noun; ~Pronunciation: /bih-heyv-yuh-riz-uh m/]

  • Definition: Using positive reinforcement to train yourself into becoming a better, healthier, funnier and wiser person. I mean, if it works for dogs, pigeons and small kids, it surely works on adults too, right?
“Psychology helps to measure the probability that an aim is attainable”
– Edward Thorndike –

Changes don’t happen overnight, no matter what Gloria Estefan sings about in Oye Mi Canto. If you wish to change yourself or certain aspects of your behaviour, first of all understand you are in it for the long haul. Trying to turn actions around, and ways of thinking you’ve embraced for such a long time they seem to have become automatic responses, is not easy!

But, if one can train a dog, it’s surely possible to train yourself out of your own “bad behaviour”, right?

I am hoping you’re nodding in agreement, because I am not yet 100% convinced of this myself.

Okay, here is the story. It’s come to my attention, for starters, that my WhatsApp behaviour is less than ideal. My brains operate in this manner: have I spoken to him/her in a while?, will I see him/her soon?, and: do I feel like texting right now? If any of the first two questions is answered by “yes” or the latter by a “no”, I don’t reply.

Well, not straight away. Which causes some understandable frustrations among friends.

Another bad habit of mine is snapping at my parents. I tried becoming a paragon of good behaviour, but it’s safe to say I failed. It’s taking a lot of effort for me to sit and hear the same stories come around every other day or hear my parents quibbling without bursting out in agitated screeching.

Then there are my eating habits. I am desperately trying to cut back on carbohydrates to lose that last little bit of weight I gained in the past months, but it’s not working. My weak spot for (mainly) sugar appears to be too big. I know I am not overweight, but I just want to feel happy in my body and right now I don’t.

This all got me thinking that maybe my actions aren’t wrong, but my way of thinking is. What if instead of seeing WhatsApp as a chore I see it as just the way it is: a means to communicate with people? And what if I see my parents as they are: two older people with everyday worries? And what if I stopped looking at the numbers on my scale and just focused on feeling good by eating healthy?

I think I am in need of some basic training. Now, I am not going to zigzag through poles or jump through a hoop, but I am convinced if you can teach a dog to eat at a certain time or even to talk (I saw a husky on TV a few days ago who clearly whined “I love you” at its owner), it’s possible for me to train myself into becoming a better communicator, a better paragon and even a better eater.

Behaviourism, or rather conditioning, works in two ways: praise good and punish bad behaviour. The first can be done by positive reinforcement, which basically means giving yourself a treat after displaying the preferred behaviour. The latter can be done by taking away something you like, known as negative punishment.

I am not sure as to how I can implement this into my own life, but I do know all change starts by realising something is wrong. Figuring out a way how to change is the next step and maybe conditioning is the key. We’ll see 🙂

Besides, aren’t we all “humans in training” in one way or another?

One thing is for sure, though. With or without training, at least I won’t end up like the dogs in the video!

What are things about yourself you’d like to change? Or have you successfully changed already? How did you train yourself?

12 thoughts on “Behaviourism (aka If You Can Train Your Dog, Surely You Can Train Yourself…?)”

  1. That is a good question, I never thought about that. But usually if I have something nagging at me then yeah, I know what I need to do to fix it. Well, I will say I know that I know WHAT I need to do, but I sometimes have a hard time implementing it into my life because I tend to take on so much at one time. For me to focus my attention on one problem I have to sort of organize my life around it and I am terrible at that. So what happens is that I will usually wait until I get completely disgusted about some issue or thing and then I say “That’s it! My new life starts today!” and then I will rework my whole life around that issue. Some issues have better success rates than others…lol. But the ones I really stick to are the ones that I know are really important to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Awareness is definitely the first step. Then I find that the things that are truly important to you will keep nagging at you until you listen. Mine usually have to nag at me for quite a while before I finally decide to listen but I usually get there eventually and if I don’t – I figure it must not have bothered me that much to begin with.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When the things that nag at you nag at you, do they also say how to improve them? I think we have all the answers we need inside of us, but it’s difficult to find them sometimes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great subject to bring up — reminds me of how my yoga instructors remind a) don’t base expectations of today on yesterday or tomorrow without first trying, b) practice, not perfection. Sometimes I find out later that it was just as well that I didn’t achieve the goal I’d thought was so essential. I’m sure I’ll never stop striving to be better 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe you are right. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about giving it your best shot. Having said that, I do wish I’ll overcome some bad traits I have. Not just for other people around me, but also because I find myself getting frustrated at my own actions at times, or the way I see things… Practice it is!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. First, I enjoyed the dog video immensely!
    Second, I had a high school math teacher who frequently said, “We train animals; we educate people.” Yes, classical conditioning (rewards and punishments) does work on people, but it is not the best approach. You are right: better attitudes result in better behavior. But better attitudes begin with awareness (which you have achieved) and develop with practice. If you want to improve your inner being, teach yourself–don’t train yourself. J.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hm, your high school teacher may be on to something. “Educating yourself” sounds a lot nicer than “training yourself” (if not conditioning, haha). I always forget it is okay to make mistakes along the way. Something about being a perfectionist. Thanks for your comment, J. It’s always good to be reminded to be nice to yourself 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I think it is very difficult to change and best that one focus on just one change at a time, and depending on the significance of the change; incrementalism may be a good approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Change is very difficult, yes, but not impossible. I often wish had a magic wand to turn myself into the bestest version of me, but that’s not how life works :p


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